Jacinda Ardern and Xi Jinping will hold face-to-face talks for the first time in three years at APEC. Ardern’s expected to raise China’s close ties with Russia, in the hope he can persuade Vladimir Putin to change his mind on Ukraine.

Foreign affairs officials have been working for weeks to secure a formal bilateral between Jacinda Ardern and Xi Jinping on the sidelines of this year’s APEC, and it’s understood a meeting has been confirmed.

On Thursday the Prime Minister travels from Vietnam, where she has been visiting with a trade delegation, to Bangkok ahead of the summit beginning on Friday.

It’s understood Ardern will also have a pull-aside on the margins of the meeting with United States vice-president Kamala Harris, and bilateral talks with Indonesia and the Philippines.

Officially bilateral meetings have been locked in with South Korea and Thailand, and Ardern will also meet Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

Speaking to media travelling with her in Ho Chi Minh in the early hours of Thursday NZT, Ardern said any opportunity to meet in person with Xi and other leaders couldn’t be “underestimated”.

“Many leaders are for the first time seeing each other face-to-face. I believe it’s making a difference and it might seem trivial but there’s nothing quite like confronting different issues with different leaders physically in the room.”

Ardern told media if she was to meet Xi she would “try every avenue” to bring an end to the illegal war in Ukraine, “and that’s why it’s worth raising”.

“You will have seen from some of the public reporting that consistently leaders are raising the relationship China has with Russia, and what might be possible there to see an end to the war.

“So of course, New Zealand, as well, is seeking every opportunity to seek an end, a change in position by Russia, and that includes talking to those who may have closer relationships,” she said.

Ardern and Xi last spoke a year ago ahead of New Zealand hosting a virtual APEC, and previously they met in 2019 when the Prime Minister visited Beijing.

She said she wouldn’t raise anything privately in meeting Xi that she wouldn’t also say publicly.

“I think that’s one of the important things about New Zealand’s relationship with China…we’re very transparent and very consistent, so we have been raising issues consistently and we will continue to do so.”

The bilateral with China will come just days after a missile hit an area in Poland just six kilometres from the Ukraine border, killing two people.

The explosion initially raised global alarm about what might eventuate if Poland called on other Nato countries to retaliate if Russia was responsible.

An investigation has been launched but on Wednesday United States President Joe Biden immediately played down the likelihood it was a Russian attack, pointing to information he had about the missile’s trajectory and believing it to more likely be from Ukrainian defences.

On Thursday morning NZT Poland President Andrzej Duda said there was no evidence to suggest the missile was an intentional attack or was launched by Russia.

In the immediate aftermath, Russia had strongly rejected it was responsible for the killings.

Media are reporting Duda saying there are “many indications” the missile was fired as part of Ukraine’s air defences and “unfortunately fell on Polish territory”.

Nato’s secretary general has also said initial analysis supports it likely to have been a Ukrainian air defence missile fired to defend Ukraine territory against Russian missile attacks.

Ardern described the situation as “fragile” and called for caution to avoid any sort of miscalculation before the investigation by Nato is complete.

“I think for every economy sitting around the table there’s a recognition we are so integrated regionally that those tensions have the potential to impact on all of us.”

While APEC is an annual summit focused on economic cooperation and development, Ardern told Newsroom it would be difficult for leaders to avoid discussing some of the geo-strategic and security issues at play.

“In this case you see our geo-strategic issues impacting so heavily on our economies. You see cost of living increases as a result, for instance, as a flow-on of the war in Europe.

“I do expect [Ukraine] will therefore weigh heavily, and will feature in much of our talks, but so will some of the solutions to get ourselves through what has been regionally felt as a tough economic recovery from Covid,” she said.

While Ardern has been on a trade mission to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh the world’s biggest economies have been meeting at the G20 summit in Bali.

That provided an opportunity for Biden and Xi to meet for the first time since the US President came into office.

The relationship between the two superpowers has been poor, with tensions spilling over, particularly around Taiwan and Biden’s statements that he would risk American lives to protect the democracy of Taiwan.

Initial reports suggest the meeting went much better than expected and while there are still many differences between the two countries, some common ground was found, including on the need to prevent any nuclear weapons being used in Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ardern told Newsroom it would be helpful if the meeting between Biden and Xi resulted in some of the tension being taken out of APEC.

“I think for every economy sitting around the table there’s a recognition we are so integrated regionally that those tensions have the potential to impact on all of us.”

She said every economy attending APEC understands “greater tension and greater conflict in our region is good for no one”.

While Biden will head back to the US when the G20 concludes on Thursday, Ardern did get an opportunity to speak with him earlier in the week at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia.

Biden was late arriving to the formal part of the summit after getting held up by news the Democrats had won the Senate and may yet still win the House.

Ardern has been nurturing the relationship with the United States as it returns to the Pacific region after years of neglect and spent time with Biden during a productive White House visit in May.

Responding to former President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will run again for the Republicans, Ardern said she had seen a “positive change” in New Zealand and the wider Pacific’s relationship with the US since Biden came to office.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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